Shipwreck

Over the weekend, as I was polishing what I hope will be the final and definitive version of the query letter for my memoir, Detour in Cancerland, about caring for my husband as he faced his terminal illness, I heard a song I hadn’t heard in decades, and I heard it in a new and shattering way.

My book is about my ridiculous behavior during Mike’s illness – when some kind of temporary insanity gripped me and I developed an absurd infatuation with a carpenter 21 years my junior, who was in our house to build Mike the new and beautiful kitchen he should have had all along, the kitchen that I was desperate to give him before he died. This crush was some wild form of deflection or denial about what was happening – that Mike was dying, would definitely die, and leave our daughter and me, without him. Mike knew and understood that, and he forgave me for it, as I had forgiven him, over an over, for things that he had done that most women would have used as grounds for divorce.

As I was trying to condense the complexity of all this into a “hook” in the query letter, Spotify played me Heart Like a Wheel. I had only ever heard the Linda Ronstadt version of it, and not the recording by the writer, Kate McGarrigle, and her sister, Anna, so I was hearing that version for the first time that day.

As a lonely, self-pitying teenager – the fat, smart girl who was never asked to the prom – I played Ronstadt’s version (which omits the second verse, about death), over and over, a bazillion times. When I heard that second verse for the first time this past weekend, I suddenly understood the song from a completely different perspective – that of a person who had loved me, out there on that sinking ship, feeling alone and lost and full of regret. I felt my late husband’s love for me and our daughter tearing him apart, as cancer tore him from us, too soon, and how this love left him floundering on the sinking ship of his incurable, merciless disease:

“Some say a heart is just like a wheel
When you bend it, you can’t mend it
And my love for you is like a sinking ship
And my heart is like that ship out in mid ocean

They say that death is a tragedy
It comes once and it’s over
But my only wish is for that deep dark abyss
Cause what’s the use of living with no true lover

And it’s only love, and it’s only love
That can wreck a human being and turn him inside out
That can wreck a human being and turn him inside out

When harm is done no love can be won
I know this happens frequently
What I can’t understand
Oh please God hold my hand
Is why it should have happened to me

And it’s only love and it’s only love
And it’s only love and it’s only love
Only love, only love
Only love, only love”

Kate McGarrigle

Love can wreck a human being and turn him inside out.

No true lover.

For years, Mike and I both felt left without a true lover, for all the complicated, personal, tangled, hurtful reasons a long and difficult marriage can engender. But we stuck it out. And the toughest thing of all was that we found each other again with so little time left – each on our own sinking ship, out in the middle of an ocean of regret, reaching for each other one last time.

Our love survived the shipwreck, and carries on, a slow, steady current streaming through an ocean salted with pain and yearning.

Mike used to say he wanted to be buried at sea. I couldn’t, or didn’t know how, to do that for him. But after hearing that song in this new way after all these years, I’ll never get the image of Mike on a sinking ship, and me reaching toward him, but not able to save him, out of my head.

Staring at the sea in my mind’s eye, cherishing every piece of the wreckage, I remain,

your steadfast, loving, forgiving and forgiven,

Ridiculouswoman

Ship image by ArtTower from Pixabay

______________________________

I have updated my new page, “27 Things,” with a list about widowhood. My head’s been there these past few days, after that song, and revisiting the book and querying, and not knowing if I even want to anymore, and all of it.

Update on the Update

I promised some actual content today, and it’s there, on my Books and Music page. I’ve fixed a few glitches with how images were displaying on the pages accessed by the main menu up there, so things should look a bit better, now.

I deleted the “donate” button, because I’ve got a job now (Woot woot!) and nobody ever donated a dime, anyway – Ha!

But I also remembered, I have a store!   Commerce, instead of a handout! I updated a product or two, and everything I’m highlighting today has the heart-on-my-sleeve- heart (the one on my shirt in the logo image up there) somewhere on it. Clever me! In time for Valentine’s Day!

Seriously, the baseball style shirt is pretty flattering and the heart-on-your-sleeve shirt now should be available in several colors in addition to black. Hope you find something you like, or just have fun looking.

Angelic Daughter asked for Dad’s magic chicken soup today (really an excuse to consume otherwise forbidden noodle-carbs) and it’s all made, so if I can stay awake long enough I might come up with an actual blog post for you by tomorrow morning.  Maybe. Don’t bet on it. But before Wednesday for sure!

Until then, I remain,

your trying to cram everything from shopping to cleaning to writing into a few hours on the weekend (um, oh yeah, like everyone else with a full-time job! Huzzah!) ,

Ridiculouswoman

 

Pardon Our Dust 2

I’ve been on a tidying up roll for a while, so I applied that impulse to how my blog looks. Hope you like it. If you notice anything weird, or images that are missing or crazy big, let me know. It may take a few days for things to settle down a bit, but I think I like this cleaner look.  Back with more actual writing tomorrow, I hope.

Hot for Handyman

Apparently it isn’t just me.  Falling in love with your carpenter (electrician, handyman, whatever) is a thing. (Spoilers coming).

Kate Reddy, Allison Pearson’s protagonist in How Hard Can It Be? (sequel to I Don’t Know How She Does It – women of a certain age will enjoy both) has flashes of lust for her kind handyman, or as much of him as is visible sticking out from under whatever he is crawling around fixing. Grace, from Grace and Frankie (Netflix), the story of two older women whose husbands leave them – for each other – after 40 years of marriage, fell in love with her remodeling contractor years before, while still married. After I had begun writing my memoir of kitchen remodeling and falling in love with the Bulgarian while caring for my terminally ill husband, I read Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True, where there is a brief but striking, and very moving (to me) portrayal of how the central character, Dominick, reacts to his Mother’s terminal diagnosis by deciding to remodel her kitchen, and a more in-depth portrayal of his life trying to manage care for his mentally ill twin brother.

Kate’s handyman knew long before Kate did that her husband was cheating on her. Grace actually consummates her love for the long-lost-and-found contractor, but he is caring for a wife with dementia. And the Mother in Lamb’s book puts a stop to the kitchen remodeling project after her son removes just the first panel of wainscotting, asking for something smaller – time and companionship – an ice cream sundae, instead.

The lives of these fictional characters resonate with me, because aspects of their imaginary experience reflect my real experience, and help me feel less alone.

I studied Jung in college, including the idea of “synchronicity:” that “meaningful coincidences” or simultaneous thinking occur between people who have no real connection to each other.  I got deeply into the idea of archetypes and the “collective unconscious.” Later in my life I experienced a kind of real-time “collective unconscious,” when performing improvisation – we called it the “group mind.”

I’ve written before, I think, about how I don’t believe in coincidences. I think people come in and out of each other’s lives for a reason, and that we encounter animals, things and events in our daily lives that signify more than just their objective descriptions. Those “events” may include the sudden impulse to turn on the TV or radio, or change the channel, only to find a song, or a program, or a line of dialogue that has special, surprisingly familiar meaning. Mike used to refer to the energy behind all this as “the gods,” and we would share with each other frequently what we thought otherwise unremarkable things were trying to tell us.

One thing the universe sure as hell is telling me is that “hot handyman” is an archetype, and there’s synchronicity going on about older women, cancer, grief, loss and resilience. It’s saying jump-start the stalled querying, Annie, and go for it. Collect rejections for your memoir proudly and keep going, because older women are having a significant moment. “The gods” (that loving, creative energy that Wayne Dyer talked about on those PBS specials) have hit the reset button on the the archetypes of the “widow” and the “crone” and freed older women to reinvent and redefine how they are perceived and what they can, and will, do. And what Grace and Frankie do in the two and a half or so seasons I’ve binge-watched so far, with lots more to go, is variously hilarious, shocking, and empowering.

I’m halfway through the first year of my 7th decade, and I never felt better. I’ve got a fantastic job and a great new haircut that makes me feel fab (and I don’t even care about how it reveals the bald spots – it’s so easy – just skwunch and go!) I haven’t been working out since I started the job, but I have a cool stand-up desk and make a point of taking the stairs a few times daily. I’m hoping to get back to the dumbbells next week.

Angelic Daughter is still having a very hard time processing the things I say about “carrying our sadness about Dad with us while moving forward to have happy lives.” Sad and happy, simultaneously? Hell, it’s hard enough for me to understand. But we’ve got things settled so she’ll be getting out more, meeting new friends, looked after by kind people at a place that is bright, beautiful, and welcoming. She’ll have lots to do to keep her busy, and, I think, happy, while I’m at work. Whew. Cue great night’s sleep and corresponding ten years off face, plus a few points shaved off the blood pressure.

Now where’s the handyman?

With hope, I remain, your

Ridiculouswoman

Image (I cropped it) by skeeze from Pixabay

I Get It Now, Mom

Mom died six years ago today, three days after her ninetieth birthday. Our relationship was often tense; I thought she was hypercritical, she thought I was, well, not everything she wanted in a daughter. Particularly regarding my hair, and my husband.

Every once in a while, though, Mom would surprise the hell out of me. One spring afternoon when I was 16, after weeks of nit-picky arguments about what I chose to wear, how much time I spent reading instead of going outside, and innumerable other stupid things mothers and daughters fight about, she told me to come outside with her.

She marched right up to our little Datsun station wagon, parked in its slot in the driveway, handed me the keys, and told me to get in. She walked around to the other side and got into the passenger seat.

The Datsun had manual transmission. I didn’t know how to drive a stick. My jaw dropped and I was rendered speechless (highly unusual) when I realized Mom was going to teach me how to drive a stick.

When I graduated high school, Dad gave me that car. Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me drive it off to college in southern California (a mere 2000 miles away, only a four day drive, I’ll stop at night, I’m eighteen, what was the problem?) but after my merciless whining, begging, pleading and explaining that life in California was impossible without a car,  they let my eldest brother, who had moved out to California to pursue his career in music, drive it out there for me. And at the end of my freshman year, I drove it home to Chicago, alone. And back, and home, and back, and home until I graduated college (except for that semester abroad.)

I gained a lot of experience and confidence by learning how to drive that car.

Thanks, Mom.

Mom had a weird way of descending stairs; she’d stick one foot out, look down, and hesitate before she actually took the step. Uncharitably, since I was (and am) overweight, I thought it was just because going downstairs was physically difficult for her after three kids and some extra pounds.

I wear progressive lenses now, with a “distant,” “computer,” and “reading” zone.

Ahhh, now I get it, Mom. You wore bifocals, and you were trying to get the right view of the next step to gauge its depth and distance. I find myself doing the same thing now.

Sorry, Mom.

In my twenties, after a weekend visit home from law school, when Mom had a negative thing to say about absolutely everything, we were cleaning up in the kitchen after dinner and I asked her, “can you think of a single moment in your life when you were truly, completely happy?”

She paused, and said, “Yes. It was a winter night in Boston and I had just come off my shift. It was a clear night. I looked up at the stars. I felt absolutely happy.”

My first reaction was hurt, that her moment of perfect happiness occurred when she was alone, and had nothing at all to do with her children. As Moms do, she read my mind, and said, “sorry” with a smile and a shrug.

But I get it now, Mom. You were really proud of becoming a registered nurse. You earned a scholarship.  Your parents didn’t want you to leave home. But you did, and you launched your professional life solely through your own hard work.  You loved being a nurse.

That night, you had something that was entirely your own. I’m envious that you pursued your vocation when you were relatively young. I muddled through job after stressful, unfulfilling job, always feeling out of place. It’s an enormous blessing at this stage of life for me to have found a job smack in the middle of my “flow” zone – where I experience a sense that I’m doing exactly what I should be doing – writing.

About 4 months before your 90th birthday, you got your hair cut, really short. Your magnificent head of white hair, that had revived itself after years of thinning, styled pretty much as it was in your nurse graduation portrait, above, was gone.

“Like Judi Dench,” you said. You loved it.

I was appalled, but I kept it to myself,

But Saturday, I got the most radical haircut of my life. Short, naturally curly pixie. And I absolutely love it – low maintenance, wash and wear, and it makes me feel renewed.

I hope I live long enough and still have my marbles when I get a radical haircut a few months before my ninetieth birthday.

That portrait of you? It’s on my writing desk.

Because I get it, now.

Remembering Mom with love and gratitude, I remain, your newly pixie-cut, happily writing,

Ridiculouswoman

Rumi, Barber and a Searing Sunset

I get too many notifications from Twitter.  My muted phone keeps waking up brightly every few minutes, urging me to interrupt my work and look! Look what (literary agent, publishing house or lit mag) just published, or look! Look at the clever swipe (celebrity) just took at (idiot politician.)

But Wednesday, when I reached to swipe away the latest text, I was surprised to find a notification of someone quoting Rumi, Mike’s favorite poet and spiritual inspiration. The quote, as presented, seemed to force a rhyme, and made me wonder about the translation, but the spirit was clear- love transforms pain.  I Googled several of the words used, and found a version that sounded more like the Rumi I came to expect from the many times Mike read him aloud to me:

“Through Love all that is bitter will be sweet, Through Love all that is copper will be gold, Through Love all dregs will become wine, through Love all pain will turn to medicine.”

“Hmm, cool.”

I put my phone down and got back to work, becoming so absorbed in writing that I was nearly late for meetings. I made it through the meetings quelling anxiety, because the they threatened to consume all the remaining time allotted to keep up the expected pace of production for the day. I forgot about the Rumi quote as I raced to finish my work, which I did, with two minutes to spare. Clock out.

On my drive home, I talk to Angelic Daughter via bluetooth (hands free!), except for the 10 minutes or so on the toll road, when conversation threatens to distract me from my primary task of avoiding being mowed down by crazed drivers flying by me, weaving lanes at 20 mph above the already generous speed limit.

Once safely merged, the quote came back to me, and suddenly a big spiritual sandbag of loneliness dropped heavy on my chest. I turned up the radio just as I remembered that Rumi quote, when I felt that sandbag land, and heard the opening notes of the Barber Adagio for strings.

“Oh, way to pile on, universe. Thanks loads.”

That piece was used in the movie “Platoon,” in a scene of devastating loss that ripped me up, and that music is forever associated with that scene in my mind. The Rumi quote makes me think about Mike. The Barber Adagio makes me remember tragic loss.

Now I’m sobbing on the speedway. After a few minutes spent brushing tears off my cheeks and blinking a lot to maintain visibility, the truck that had been looming to my left, so I couldn’t see anything in that direction, pulled ahead, revealing a spectacular sunset in progress. Intensely pink, with a shelf cloud seemingly lit from under, brushed by “horsetail” (cirrus) clouds, the whole ceiling of it cut off by a straight line cloud break with a strip of clear, baby blue sky beyond.

“Oh, my God,” I thought. “Look at that, Mike.”

My phone’s camera couldn’t possibly do justice to that blazingly beautiful pink sunset, and no photo could evoke what I felt in that moment.

“All that is copper turns to gold.” Pain is a kind of medicine. Rumi wrote a lot about living with suffering and pain, and learning from it. Mike wrote about his suffering as a kind of companion. Pain reminds us of love. Love turns pain into medicine. Mike wrote that Rumi had reminded him “that we all die and it doesn’t even matter because this our affliction is only a sigh. God is close to us. Endure your affliction and he may even reward you.”

Mike’s physical pain was “managed,” except when he was laid down too flat, when it was excruciating. His emotional pain was profound – having to say good bye to the Angelic Daughter he raised, having to leave her here without him.

My pain is muted in comparison, but it is real – the pain of seeing her still struggle to accept that he is gone, trying so hard to understand the abstraction of “his spirit energy and love are always with us.” Sharing the ache of our ongoing search for how to live fully without him.

I thought I had that under “control,” lately. I thought I’d made “progress.” Rumi, Barber and that sunset smashed that notion – the idea that I could compartmentalize grief. I’m grateful for that. I needed a big, sloppy, snotty, sob – accompanied by the moaning sound the sobs bring up from my core –  a kind of howling.

Love “turns pain to medicine.” Love tells me to embrace grief and understand that it isn’t going away. It’s just woven in, to my life as it is now and will be from now on.

With storm wind howling today, I remain, your muted, grateful, still-learning-from-love-and-pain-and-love,

Ridiculouswoman

The Obligatory New Year’s Post, or, I’m Too Old for Revolutions

A few year’s ago, I explained that we used to call them “New Year’s Revolutions.” This was supposed to indicate an intention to shake things up by changing something, irretrievably.

I’ve had quite enough shaking up the past few years. Just read my posts under the tag, “how not to” and you’ll get the idea. I’ll keep it simple, and more age appropriate this year, to wit:

A Sixty Year Old Widow’s Age-Appropriate Resolutions

  1.  If it’s an available option, always choose sleep.
  2. You really can’t eat that much anymore. So don’t. Embrace portion control.
  3. Enjoy your invisibility, and protect it by keeping your opinions to yourself.
  4. More reading, less TV.
  5. Prepare, and begin to pursue, bucket list.

That’s it.

I went back and reread last year’s obligatory New Year’s post, and found that I either didn’t do what I said I would, or did, and backed off quickly. After floundering around for most of the year, I got a really great job. Now I’m focused on doing it well, and keeping it for as long as I can.

Figuring out how to keep up with writing while working full time is a challenge, but I’m determined to do it.  I think goals are different than resolutions, so:

A Sixty Year Old Widow’s Writing Goals for 2020

  1. Finish querying first book.
  2. Write next book.
  3. Submit one piece of creative non-fiction or essay per week.
  4. Tally rejections proudly – they mean you tried.
  5. Find something to write about other than yourself.

Easier said than done.

OK, bucket list. Hmm. Don’t know if a bucket list should meet that organizational standard, “SMART” goals – specific, measurable (how do you measure the happiness you get from doing something you always wanted to do?) attainable, relevant, and time-bound (a bucket list is by definition time-bound – it’s a list of stuff you want to get done before you die). I don’t know if any of these are “SMART,” but here’s stuff I want to (or must) do before I die, in no particular order:

  1. Downhill ski, again.  Apparently, ski equipment is so different since I last went, I’ll have to relearn skiing altogether. Or find some really old skis and boots on eBay.
  2. Learn how to skate, and stop, on hockey skates. Just because.
  3. Find the money to go and someone trustworthy to care for Angelic Daughter (and get Angelic Daughter set up with an acceptable, safe, happy independent living situation – that’s a must do) while I visit New Zealand, Australia (what’s left of it, after all the fires, so awful! thinking of you, Aussies!) Alaska and Ireland. Can’t think why I haven’t visited Ireland yet.
  4. Get a book published. By a real, legit publisher. I want my obit to say, “Author of…”
  5. Find a sane, non-pyschotic, non-gaslighting, non-mansplaining, binary, heterosexual he/him to love, who loves me back. If such a being exists. There’s always hope.

Recently, I’ve been behaving as if I have lost hope – eating too much, not working out- and I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to give up on myself, my well-being and my chance, if there is any, to find love. I’ve been encouraged by my recent discovery that sleeping a full 8 hours a night takes ten years off my face. Who knew?

Today, I woke up feeling great. Yes, I woke up on New Year’s Day feeling wonderful. Probably because I spent the evening reading, and went to bed early, without watching on TV or participating in any of the forced gaiety of midnight celebrations and associated consumption of mass quantities of alcohol, a/k/a getting shitfaced (pissed, legless, paralytic, sloshed, plastered, wasted, etc. The English language has an extraordinary selection of words to identify the state of inebriation). Not that I didn’t raise a glass or three, but at least I had the sense to cut myself off and go to bed at a reasonable hour.

These past few years have given me, individually, and us, collectively, a lot of reasons to lose hope. But let’s just not. New year, new decade (yes, I’m on the “2020 starts the new decade, not 2021” team) and new chances to try to do the right thing, every new day we’re granted, every day we wake up, miraculously, again.

Happy New Year and Happy New Decade: may yours be filled with hope and mornings waking up feeling wonderful (and at my age, just waking up at all should count as feeling wonderful, even when my joints go snap, crackle, pop when I first get out of bed). I think of those sounds as the music of movement, and a reason to keep going.

Until next time, I remain,

Your tart-cherry juice drinking, ginger-turmeric tea swilling, arising gratefully, and absurdly early, to get to a great job on time,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay